When the FERPA Flies: Your access to your student’s education records

A lot is said about the transition young people go through as they move from high school and living at home to college and new freedoms and responsibilities. But we don’t hear as much about the wide-ranging adjustments parents have to make along with their children.

We all know it can be hard not to have your student under your roof at night, and that it’s easy to worry about how they’ll handle college life.

But we might not think about the legal implications of having a child in college, including the fact that, once their child is enrolled in college, parents are no longer the “owners” of their students’ education records.

These education records were “owned” by parents when their student was in high school. Now that their student is enrolled in college, the records are “owned” by the student and protected under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, commonly referred to as FERPA (pronounced FUR-pah, for those who may not have heard of it before).

Under FERPA, parents don’t have the right to access their child’s education records without the student’s written permission, even if that student is not yet 18 years old. (The same is true for medical records held by Longwood’s University Health Center.)

Education records include but are not limited to

—Class lists
—Student course schedules
—Student financial information, including bills. (Financial aid awards will also go into the account specified by the student.)
—Student discipline files

Your student had the opportunity to fill out a FERPA release during orientation. If they did so, that means Longwood staff and faculty have the student’s permission to release information to you. However, even though Longwood can give out the information, we may not—at least not at first. And here’s why.

“Our first goal is always to get the student to talk to their parents,” said Susan Hines, Longwood’s registrar. “When a parent calls asking for information, we always encourage them to talk to their student and to get the information from them. We completely understand the parent’s role in their student’s college career, and we understand that often parents are paying the bills.

“But we also feel an obligation to help students grow and become independent. Part of that involves understanding and taking on tasks that, in the past, may have been completely handled by their parents. It’s difficult for young people to learn how the world works unless they have responsibility for taking care of the details. And we understand that this can be a major adjustment for parents.”

Hines also would like parents to know that, even if their student signed a FERPA release form at orientation, the student may rescind that release after they arrive on campus. It happens more often that you might think, she said.

“This is another time for parents and their students to talk,” Hines said. In these cases, the student must fill out another release form and bring it in person to the Office of the Registrar to reinstate permission for their parents.

If you’d like to find out more about FERPA, you can go to the U.S. Department of Education at https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html or the Longwood website at http://www.longwood.edu/registrar/policies–regulations/family-educational-rights-and-privacy-act-ferpa/.

—Sabrina Brown